A freshman from John Horn High School in Mesquite (Texas) wrote a letter to The Dallas Morning News (published on May 27th), which was given the above title. High school students have reached an age when their reasoning skills are advancing rapidly, and they can ask some very pointed questions, which require an answer. Below is the first paragraph this student wrote:

What do teenagers mean today when they call themselves Christian? Some of the kids at my school seem to consider church a place to hang out and get away from home. I like to have fun, too, but I also like to take important things seriously. Recently, a guy at my school was having a big party. Everybody was talking about drinking and doing drugs--even some of the kids who are supposedly "Christians" (26A).

The question that begins this paragraph is a good one for anyone claiming to be a Christian to answer. It would be interesting for someone from her school to provide an explanation; in fact, maybe they all should. In this way each could evaluate and express his own thoughts on the subject.

The second sentence presupposes what is mentioned later in the letter: that some religious group with ample facilities (perhaps, a recreation center) and a youth minister is hosting youths on their premises a great portion of the time. It is scarcely unusual that teens might prefer each other's company to being at home, but parents can surely communicate those times when all the family needs to be present. There may be something not explicitly stated here which would make the studentŐs objection clearer.

Whatever that problem might be, the greater one is that more of the young people's time is spent in social activities than in spiritual ones. Sharing a few moments in some recreational activity can be enjoyable and productive, but Christians have many other possibilities for involvement. Could they devote 30 minutes, for example, to memorizing Scriptures or Bible facts each day? Just think how much encouragement they could be to one another in this manner! Or perhaps they could study a book of the Bible for 30 minutes after school each day. They might conduct a Bible study with those who are not Christians.

Some members of that congregation may not be able to keep up with the work around their houses any longer. The young people could select one project a week and mow the lawn, do some yard work, offer to help with repairs, or do some painting. Grace has been so emphasized in society today that good works (Titus 2:14) have fallen upon hard times. In other words, teens have plenty of options besides just devoting themselves to recreational activities. Perhaps engaging in some of these activities would eliminate the criticism that religion should be taken seriously.

Why would "Christians" be talking favorably about parties in which young people would be drinking and doing drugs? Galatians 5:19-21 enumerates several sins of the flesh: the last three are "drunkenness, revelries, and the like." Some wrongly try to be as little different from those in the world as possible. The problem with such an attitude is that eventually the line of demarcation becomes indistinguishable.

The writer adds:

Our youth minister told us that 80 percent of the teenagers going to church are not really Christians. I do not understand why they continue to go to church if they do not embrace Christian beliefs (26A).

One wonders if this 80 percent statistic was scientifically obtained or if it merely constitutes a guess. If we assume it is a valid figure, then we must search for an explanation. First, some may be claiming to be Christians because their families belong to that religious group (whatever it is). They grow up and know what they should be doing, but they have no faith of their own. They succumb to positive family pressure. They may have many friends that likewise attend worship, who exert positive peer pressure upon them. While this kind of influence is good, it explains the lack of conviction that some possess.

A second reason that some remain affiliated with the church is that they want to avoid the hassle they would invite if they told their parents or their friends they no longer believed or wanted to attend worship. Many of these will wait until they go away to college to let their true feelings surface. They will at that point visit no church in the area; they will further resist meeting with anyone who contacts them. They now have a new social environment of their own making, which allows them to be Godless, which they really wanted all along. No one will condemn or shame them because no one knows them in these new circumstances. Now they can do things (immoral things) that they could never have done under the old social order.

I know people who believe in Christ and live good lives who do not go to church at all. I can understand their behavior better than that of people who pretend to believe things that their actions do not reflect (26A).

Many would probably agree with this statement, but it deserves scrutiny: Actually both groups are hypocrites; one is simply more observably so. To be sure, those whose actions do not match the beliefs they profess err. If they want to be known as Christians, then they should exhibit the kind of character that Christ did. As our supreme example, Jesus did not say one thing and practice another. What He taught He first did (Acts 1:1). He did not preach self-control while sneaking away to snort coke. He did not preach sexual purity (Matt. 5:27-27) while secretly amassing His own personal harem. He did not wear simple clothes during the day and vanish from men's sight at dusk to His mansion to don lavish clothes and be waited on by servants. The way He presented Himself before men reflected the actual person. Those who claim to follow Him do not--if they wish to be counted among the righteous during the day but spend their evenings in dens of corruption. Since Jesus did not behave in such a hypocritical fashion, they cannot be following Him.

But neither are those living "good lives" any better. The student writer says that these people "believe in Christ," but they do not "go to church." Such behavior also constitutes a rejection of Jesus. Many have never been taught correctly about the church, and they therefore assume that righteous living is better than (or a substitute for) church attendance.

The facts are, however, these:

1. Jesus built the church (Matt 16:18-19).

2. Jesus died for the church (Acts 20:28).

3. When people obey the Gospel (are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, Acts 2:38, 41), Jesus adds them to this body of believers (Acts 2:47).

4. Jesus is the Head over the church He established (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18).

5. Jesus bought, built, adds the saved to, and is Head over only one body (Eph. 4:4-6). (The New Testament does not authorize any man-made denominations.)

6. Jesus designed His church as a body, whose members interact with one another (1 Cor. 12:25-27).

7. Christ's spiritual body functions properly when each part does its share of the Divinely-appointed work (Eph. 4:16).

8. The church is commanded not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25).

9. Church members are commanded to speak, teach, and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), and build one another up in the most holy faith (Jude 20). In fact, the New Testament lists thirty ways in which Christians are to interact, none of which can be accomplished in isolation.

10. Jesus is going to save ONLY those in the church, those who are part of His body (Eph. 5:23).

In other words, although people may say they believe in Jesus, if they are unwilling to do what He taught in all things (not just morality, but in being an active part of His body), they are lost. Those who choose to ignore His will for any reason (whether it be failing to worship, as we are commanded, or whether it be engaging in things the Bible defines as immoral) have a rude awakening to face--for Jesus will tell them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23). Those who want salvation must do the will of Jesus--not their own. Jesus designed the church to be subject to Him (Eph. 5:24). True believers hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27-29).

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN?" (06/16/02)."

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